Language as site
June 23, 2013
A post dedicated to a friend, a fellow pilgrim, a writing machine, a former student still entrapped in the semiotic stratic machine of Heideggerian scholarship…
In his reading of Nietzsche, Heidegger stated at one point that the present time has transformed into a Nietzschean situation in which the will rigidifies everything into a lack of will. We understand this situation to be an effect of nihilism, the will to not will anymore.
In this light, Dasein is caught up in a situation where it confronts profound boredom, due to lack of real motivation to continue willing. Dasein confronts a time that stands still. It is however in this precise situation where Dasein can exercise its transitory character, to perform a going-between while time stands still. In Heidegger this vacant order of time is metaphysically occasioned by Nothing that nothings. If technology for Heidegger has become the new form of metaphysics, then the metaphysical occasioning of nihilism is here concretely expressed in terms of the power of technology to strip human projects off of their ‘humanly’ motivations. But this is only one side of technology. Heidegger also insists that the question concerning technology is best understood outside of the question of technology itself, that is to say, non-technologically. It is here where the question of technology is referred to the metaphysics of willing that occupied Nietzsche’s late speculations on the fate of Western society.
Before going any further, let me clarify what I mean by Dasein’s transitory character. But, perhaps, it is better to start here with the ontological difference that elsewhere Heidegger describes as having the character of a passage. Consistent with his project of fundamental ontology, the destructive retrieval of being, Heidegger argues that the difference between Being and being/s is not permanent. This is where Heidegger is at his best historical. The difference is historically arbitrary, invested with humanistic projects (human-centered). Certainly, the ontological difference is addressed to the historical character of Dasein, the human dasein that is conscious of the difference that history employs. In fact, the ontological difference is an issue only for Dasein. And because the ontological difference has Being as its central issue Being is an issue for Dasein, that is, as a being-in-the-world. The world is where the ontological difference is intensively employed by history that is itself invested with human projects.
This history has reached a point where human investments which undergird its continuity have exhausted their limits in the sense that they have been stripped of fundamental human motivations. It is certainly the case of human progress that turns against the human that inspired it all (the case of Enlightenment). The human inspiration is now sacrificed in favor of the radicalization of the human into the post-human, hence, the divestment. This is not only relevant to philosophy of technology; a number of applications of this post-human project can be detected in postmodernism which extends this logic into a defence of the multiplicity of meanings enough to establish the premise that no human is up to the task of controlling the process, distribution and production of signs (meanings). The human is in fact only an emergent entity produced by the interplay of signs above the plane of individual determination. As an emergent entity, the human is an accidental occurrence of the play of signs which follow an independent logic. The human becomes the handmaiden of semiotics.
A sensible reader of Heidegger can detect here the workings of the ontological difference. ‘Being’ is transposed into ‘Sign’, ‘being’ into the human Dasein. When Heidegger elsewhere states that Language is the house of Being, he is certainly referring to the paradox of language as a milieu of signs, of meanings which, in postmodernist lingo, is made possible by the interplay of beings in their multiplicity. Thus, language is the site of this interplay and as a site does not express anything (it only accommodates different expressions). Being is not expressed by the multiplicity of signs or meanings. Being escapes expression.
But as seemingly empty Being persists in language that does not express anything but simply locates the intentionalities of the production of signs. These intentionalities are also what we described earlier as human investments. Language therefore localizes expressions making them reducible to intentionalities. By a destructive retrieval of Being Heidegger reduces these intentionalities to a particular occasioning of Being which also exposes how Being becomes rarely understood as to its essence as fundamentally withdrawing from any human attempt to universalize it such as in terms of establishing the ontological difference between Being and being/s. But as a house of Being language can help us locate these intentionalities and expose their contingent character such as one can detect the intentionality of the builder of the house by looking into the structures of the house itself. These intentionalities often neglect the subterranean depths that escape masterly profiling by an intending gaze.
The question of intentionality is therefore the question, àpropos the house, of what it conceals by unconcealing, deliberate or not on the part of the builder, the intensive quality of work that raised the house from the ground up. Neither the builder nor in fact the house does the unconcealment. Life betrays the human and non-human by exposing their transitory character through a miscarriage, a breakage, through the thermal, chemical and molecular cracks that time pulls off from under its sleeve. Time unconceals by patiently accommodating the inner works of entropy. But time also conceals in the sense that it takes time (it demands itself) to reveal the dynamics of contingency and mortality. It demands the risk of getting it all wrong. It demands trial and error; it demands, this time in the language of Deleuze, physical and mental legwork. Certainly, we are no longer operating within the Husserlian concept of intention. It acquires a powerful historical form in Heidegger that Husserl lacked in the sense of historically reporting the obvious, the obvious being the negative appearance of what is concealed which is continually withdrawing from representation regardless whether one deliberately conceals or unconceals…
Heidegger strengthens Nietzsche’s appeal to humanity in the aftermath of the collapse of representational truth where only appearances truly matter–either to negate or affirm this world. To negate this world requires a will to will its dissolution. To affirm it may take two forms: 1) to embrace its negativity but short of radicalizing the gesture into opening oneself onto new plateaus of becoming, in which case the self withdraws into a brooding existential mode ala Kierkegaard, and 2) to say no to this world as a manifestation of a will to invent a new one, to say yes to the world’s decomposition, to politically will its conscious decline.
But instead of treating it as a site language is treated in postmodernism as the very being of Being itself which means the very inescapability of language (a sign of embracing negativity). From site to spirit. From history to an oblivious sort of metaphysics, or simply metaphysics as forgetfulness of the historical character of occasioning Being such as occasioning it in language as a site, as a house. Here, the transitory character of the ontological difference becomes understood as the transitoriness of human history that will culminate in the dissolution of human history in the form of posthumanity. This is also extended to Dasein’s transitory character—Dasein will eventually give way to a being-in-the-world in a radically accomplished form. (Heidegger preferred ‘a new autochthonous form’, an expression that resists the linear progression of the transition in question). The postmodern inescapability of language, or language autonomous from human intentionalities, becomes the very expression of the posthuman. The trick is to ignore language as a site, as architecture. Language then becomes planetary or continental. In this sense language also loses its creativity, becomes stripped of its localizability.
Language ceases to be a function of coding or decoding, as well as tracing the overlaps between the two such that, as Nietzsche and Kafka exhibited in their works, all codes are mixed up in the sense of inventing new ones. And because language is a site, all the more the overlaps become a function of inventing new sites, new lines of mobilization, a new geography, new islands, a new consciousness…
Indeed, when language becomes planetary and continental, nihilism sets in when the motivation to invent collapses. It is undeniable that technology in its present form has radicalized the post-humanization of language and creativity. Technology has reached a planetary scale in proportion to the loss of human motivation, of local expressions and, need we say, its architecture. In the same manner, globalization is increasingly flattening the world into a universal space of expression. Certainly, it is only possible when language has lost is local expressibility. (We can therefore understand Heidegger’s suspicion of science that has developed a universal code of expression in mathematics; or why Leibniz’s dream of universal language failed, or why the tower of Babel got struck by lightning).
Technology has become the mega-house of Being. To reclaim the local essence of language is precisely to will a technology that can reclaim language as a site, as an expression, and thereof break free from the global semionihilism of our modern time; to put it in terms of the grammar of the multitude that have been challenging states and governments today (in Turkey, Brazil, and other parts of the world, more are waiting to explode), to challenge the preoccupation of today’s nihilism with all forms of posthumanity. Global protests have initiated a pattern to break the profound boredom that Heidegger detected on the tail of nihilism, on one side, an attitude that inclines towards apathy, on the other, that which leans towards a ‘demented or suicidal collapse’ (expressing it here in the language of Deleuze and Guattari). To challenge technology is to compel its codes to invent new lines of flight away and in defiance of technocapitalism. To challenge technology is to seize its speed, its intrinsic mechanism to deflect contemplation which demands a slow, discreet reflexive process, a process of time reckoning, certainly an antidote to apathy borne of a systematically induced failure to catch up with acceleration.
But also, to challenge technology is to redirect its speed to a people’s entropic trajectory. Let a new people manage what is left or what gets turned into a stockpile, a standing reserve, of human collective posterity—the biopolitical and geoinformational constituent assemblages of desiring species which is certainly no exemption from the motion of entropy and decay. A new people’s micro-fascistic management of death in the sense of intelligent Dionysian utilization of body intensities, of forces of conjunctions of flows of desires which Marx unabashedly described as the dictatorship of a people, the peasants and proletariats of his time. This promising dictatorship was long ago reterritorialized by the new capitalist system of conjugating body-intensities into machinic conglomerates of bored ambulatory zombies, undead people under the neo-liberal regime of global capitalism, paralyzed as disenabled of carrying out a going-between, of creating a space, a line of flight between boredom and fatigue. The new people will be the proletariats and peasants of our times who have also learned to renounce the reterritorializing scheme of vanguard politics—the prolets and peasants of the new conjugation of classes of desires, the non-standard prolets and -peasants of a new autochthonous class of resistance, loosely termed the precariats. (Or: what Berardi, under the influence of Heidegger and Deleuze and Guattari, would describe as the cognitariats of the post-Fordist age. Arguably, this non-standard class politics of a new class comes as a good toxicant measure of Dionysian booze, an inebriation of the sort that can divine the boundary between intelligent, smart, sensible compositional anarchy and plunging into chaos).
Technology is nothing technological as it is not only a matter of functions, extending the temporal and spatial capabilities of bodies and desiring machines, but also because it breeds poverty, alienation and estrangement. Notwithstanding their pure unmediated recognisability as local sites of experience (poverty, alienation and estrangement), they are nonetheless stripped of their capacities for expression (to code an experience away from its political indetermination, from the semiotic limbo—by political we mean the capability to act against homogeneity and finality) in proportion to how they are being made distinctly capable of indifference, reduced to minding bare necessity. Still everything partakes of the transitory, like the ontological difference.
Now, more and more are challenging the claim that Being is transiting into a stage where language will have to necessarily demolish houses, parks, buildings, and schools, convert strawberry fields, farmlands into commercial zones, business districts, enclosures of capital, etc. The ontological difference has the character of a passage precisely because ontology is not All. Life, the Deleuzian pure immanence, is the better judge. Being is not All because there is love, there is beauty. There are bodies without organs…
There is the silence of the lambs, the depression of dogs, the patience of termites, and the slow aging process of cells. There is nothing. There are the dark nights of the universe.
There is il y a, there is the ultimate ravisher of an ethics of transcendence that can never transcend itself for its too humanistic protestations against Heidegger. There is the Same as pre-ontic, pre-subjective Real, the entropic pre-existence of Nature as an accidental assemblage, an ecology that supplants the ethicality of the face. There is post-ethicality that reinstitutes the human into the flux of becoming where the novelty of the face-to-face encounter collapses into the Spinozan determinism of the Same that no human can reverse, because it is Justice (justice of the Same), even by becoming good for goodness sake. But only a micro-fascism of a people, neither a face nor an ethical subject, can discover the true causes of alienation, of misery and the absurd. What affords a people their contingent share of cosmic joy is their intelligent discovery of the causes behind sadness, behind the inevitability of the absurd. A Spinozist non-standard ethics of joy which Machiavelli transformed into a working ethics, an ethic of a people.
When Levinas was given by life an opportunity to speak on behalf of a missing people, he chose to sideline their body-intensities, the flow conjunctions of their nomadic desires by instead channeling jouissance to individual de-subjectivation in pursuit of justice that can only take place outside the subject, obviously an opportunity he squandered in terms of his excessive catatonic interest in the face of a European Jew. Thus, the proper counter-point to Levinas is the non-faces of Palestinian Jews, non-standard Jews (we are borrowing the sense of non-standard from Laruelle); also, the counter-point of a new geography, without walls erected by the militarist Zionist state, which will be peopled by the Palestinian Jews, by the future Christs, the futuristic war machines of a bastard race that, in Deleuze’s language, ‘ceaselessly stirs beneath dominations.’
Here, we also need to change the myth. God did not create subjects with faces, like Adam and Eve; rather He concocted a faceless people. Faces could be made and fabricated, after much legwork traversing islands and open plateaus, hills, steppes, mountains and valleys, a by-product of molecular and phylogenetic translations of migrant ambulatory bodies (the envy of zombies) mutually conjugating flows of desires to a plane of consistency where desires settled (in Freud, the release of tensions) in honour of the incredible work of peace.
There is one Cause and that is the impossible inevitability of Life. Life is inevitable because we can do nothing about It except to learn to negotiate with Nature’s entropic resources which is the absolute precondition of all ethics.
There are Levinasians and Ricoeurians, even still, hard knuckled Heideggerians, or what have you, those types you can tolerate for their ingenuous if not petty machinic parroting of wholesome words that never dance, never make love, simply because they are friends of your friends. There is Derrida who quips—friendship effracts a boring circle, this circle of the given-time of the accelerating motion of Capital.
There’s an orgy and a juju. There is a funeral parlor. There is withdrawal.
There is precinct number 9. Skipping a number is not Zeno’s greatest strength. But there are plateaus of becoming Kierkegaard would find very hard to fathom, becomings that would render a leap of faith pathetic and boring.